One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Back to Frank Black: A Reflection
the year 1999, whenChris Carter’s Millennium (1996 – 1999) was still
airing on Fox TV, my wife and I purchased our first house together, a charming,
one-hundred year old white Dutch Colonial.
had not been in our new home for but six weeks when, unfortunately, we were
victims of a crime.
the very day my wife graduated from her grad school program in psychology, a
man broke into our home, and stole her computer (which had her thesis on it…)
and my video camera (which still had inside it new footage from the no-budget film
I was making, Annie Hell.)
mud-caked footprints from the robber dotted the once-pristine white sofa we had
recently purchased for the living room, and a window was pried open.
I’ve never forgotten those footprints.
damage, of course, was worse than they immediately indicated. The dirty footprints had also trampled my
wife and me, at least metaphorically-speaking.
I still remember my wife crying in our family room, feeling…violated.
long after that day…I painted the house
today I’m showing you the photographs to prove it.
Frank Black's yellow house.
..And mine, circa 1999.
painted the house yellow in honor of Frank Black’s yellow house on Ezekiel
Drive in Millennium.
was something immensely cathartic in that affirmative act of turning our Dutch Colonial
was, as Chris Carter would describe it, a “painting
away of the darkness” we had experienced together. The yellow house helped us regain and reclaim
our dream, somehow, some way.
lived happily, safely, and proudly in our own, beautiful yellow house for over
a decade following that incident, and my newborn son came home from the
hospital to live there too, in 2006. We
moved away not long ago, but still, I sometimes go back to that yellow house in
don’t know that this personal story is particularly important or perhaps even that
interesting to read, but I believe that overall, it points to the fact that
Chris Carter’s Millennium deeply and irrevocably influenced those viewers who
were open enough to experience it, and engage with it.
my “business,” I don’t often encounter TV programs that function as complex works
of art first, and exercises in commerce second, but that’s exactly what Millennium
represents to me.
written these words before, but they still seem true and vital today: Chris Carter created this particular TV series
with a sense or artistry that is largely unparalleled in the TV medium. If you’re a fan, I think you know what I
this…purity of vision about Millennium.
it stems in part from the symbol of the yellow house. You get the sense
watching the series that Carter was allowed to express himself in an unfettered
way, and that in creating the series, he reached deep down inside himself in a
very potent and honest way.
this inception, it’s no surprise to me that, some thirteen years after the
series was canceled, I hold in my hands a book called Back to Frank Black,a
tome dedicated to what Millennium represents and means.
suspect that, much like me, many other fans of the series own yellow houses, or
in some other meaningful way connect Frank Black’s travails to those from their
book itself is a remarkable achievement.
a whopping 510 pages in length, it features in-depth interviews with luminaries such as Chris Carter, Frank
Spotnitz, Lance Henriksen, Klea Scott, Kristen Cloke, Meghan Gallagher, Tom
Wright, Brittany Tiplady, James Morgan, Glen Wong, Erin Maher, Kay Reindl, Chip
Johannessen, Michael Perry, Robert McLachlan, Sarah Jane Redmond, and Mark Snow.
impressively, standing side-by-side these first person accounts of the making
the series are several remarkable essays about what the series symbolizes to
various writers and artists.
writer who pens an essay in the book “sees” the series differently…and with
this is precisely what great art can achieve.
It communicates something that is ultimately received, interpreted, and
explained by the likes of folks such as Joseph Maddrey, Brian Dixon, or Gordon
book opens with a foreword from none other than Lance Henriksen, and he
describes his memorable character, Frank Black, as a person with “the chess player’s eye for detail” in a
world of, essentially, conspiracy unbound.
Spotnitz follows-up Henriksen’s piece with another foreword that focuses on the
second half of the actor’s equation, a comment in part on “the darkness that we fear in the real world.” His piece also takes us back to the creation
of the pilot, and provides us a window on that time and place.
words are followed up by an introduction from Chris Carter, and he describes
Frank Black as a “man dealing with an
existential problem. Something terrible is going to happen, the clock is ticking,
and all the responsibility is on him.”
Henriksen’s assessment of Black, this description from Carter gets at the
nature of the character at Millennium’s heart.
a critic who values historical context as a key to unlocking visual texts, I
was also gratified to read here Carter’s description of TV programs as “a product of influences.”If a show is “good,” the artist suggests, “it
is a reflection of the time it was created, and captures our hopes and fears.”
the front material and interviews, a group of talented writers help to explain
how the series indeed captured those hopes and fears at the end of last
enumerate just a few highlights:
Maddrey writes about Millennium as a product of the fin de siècle movement, and
compares Black explicitly to Sherlock Holmes.
He also has a few great lines comparing the natures of Fox Mulder and
Clark, meanwhile excavates the indelible Henriksen mystique and explains how it
interacts with the character Carter first created on the page.
Roberts intriguingly expounds on the modern idea of “families under siege” and
contextualizes Frank’s interaction with the Millennium Group in terms of such
movies as The Godfather and TV fare like The Sopranos. In other words, Frank must choose between his
family, and a version of the “mob,” a secret society family.
Tangari contributes a brilliant survey too, explaining how popular music is
utilized in the series over the various seasons, often in ulta-unconventional
fashion. Not to be outdone, Brian Dixon
offers a sterling piece about “second sight,” and the visualization in the series of Frank’s (often violent) “insights.”
and on, one after the other, each essay is well-written, strongly-argued, and
bolstered by a tremendous sense of passion….and emotional investment. Again, the only obvious conclusion is that Millennium
inspired those who engaged with it, and led them to think deeply about its meaning
and value in our society.
should add that this sense of inspiration goes well beyond the contributors of
the specific pieces, and extends to editors Brian Dixon, Adam Chamberlain,
James McLean, and Troy Foreman, the talents who boasted the dedication and
determination to bring this 500 page book to market. That means transcription of interviews. That means careful proofreading. That means deliberate, thoughtful organization
on this last front, organization, I was especially pleased to register how the
book is structured. The text essentially takes us on a journey from Season One
to Season Three, leaving no stone unturned along the way. There’s logic and careful thought dictating
the ordering of the contributions, and, frankly, that’s more than I can say
about many anthology collections I’ve been involved with.
also want to note James McLean’s piece here: “A History of the Back to Frank
Black Campaign,” which reveals the hard work behind the effort to resurrect Millennium. I already knew some of this information -- at a distance -- from my experience with
the campaign, but I found it a fascinating read from an “inside baseball”
perspective. This contribution explores
the “hows” and “whys” behind the existence of this book.
haven’t written a traditional review here, I realize, in part because of my own
involvement in the project. But I just
wanted to write today -- for the record
-- that I am very proud and humbled to be a part of this book’s tapestry. I hope
fans find it as satisfying and informative a read as I did, and that the
book accomplishes its mission: sparking further the dedicated movement to resurrect Chris
Carter’s often unheralded masterpiece.